tek's rating: ¾

Raya and the Last Dragon (PG)
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streaming sites: Disney+; Google Play; iTunes; Movies Anywhere; Vudu; YouTube

This was released both theatrically and on Disney+ (with Premier Access) in March 2021; it became free on Disney+ in June. (But I watched it on DVD.) It was accompanied theatrically by the short film Us Again.

500 years before the story begins, there was a land called Kumandra, where people lived in harmony with dragons. Then a plague of spirits called Druun came and started turning people and dragons into stone. The remaining dragons created an orb-shaped gem that revived all the people (but for some reason not the dragons), and expelled the Druun. However, there was a power struggle for control of the gem that resulted in Kumandra breaking up into five separate lands: Heart, Fang, Spine, Talon, and Tail. Heart retained possession of the gem, and the people of all the other lands resented them for it. Meanwhile, the last dragon, Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina) disappeared into one of Kumandra's rivers.

500 years later, a young girl named Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) completes her training to become a defender of the gem. She is the daughter of the chief of Heart, Benja (Daniel Dae Kim), who wants to bring the five lands back together in peace. When delegations from each land come to Heart to hear him out, Raya befriends a girl named Namaari, the daughter of Fang's chief, Virana (Sandra Oh). Raya takes Namaari to see the gem, at which point Namaari tries to steal it for Fang, using firworks to signal her army. (Raya and Namaari have a fight before the adults arrive, and they're both pretty badass for their age. Of course they'll be much more so as adults, which leads to some really cool fight scenes.) When the other delegations show up in the cave where the gem is hidden, they all struggle to obtain it, and it ends up being broken into five pieces, with each land taking one of them. However, with the gem fragmented, the Druun return and begin turning people into stone again. One of their victims is Benja.

We next see Raya six years later. All this time, she and her pet Tuk Tuk (Alan Tudyk) have been searching all the rivers of the lands, trying to find Sisu. (Tuk Tuk was quite small when Raya was younger, but now he's big enough for her to ride on. Wikipedia describes him as a cross between an armadillo and a pill bug.) She finally does find Sisu, who joins her in her quest to obtain the other four pieces of the gem. It turns out that each piece bestows a different dragon ability on Sisu, one of them being shapeshifting. So she spends part of the time as a human. Meanwhile, Namaari is now leading Fang's army, who are hunting for Raya, to obtain a scroll or something, I dunno. Anyway, Raya gains a few allies during her journey, but I don't feel like spoiling any details about them, though I did like them all. I will say that Sisu is kind of wacky, but also kind-hearted. She believes Raya should try to trust Namaari instead of fighting over the gem fragments, since putting the gem back together would benefit everyone in all the lands. But Raya can't bring herself to do that, after Namaari's betrayal six years ago.

And I guess that's all I want to reveal of the plot, though of course it does have a happy ending. Anyway, I thought the movie worked very well as a fantasy-adventure story (certainly as good as if not better than almost any live-action movie in that genre). It had good characters, and drama, and humor, and great animation. And I enjoyed the modern slang that characters used (even if it feels a bit odd that it was American slang). And I don't know what else to say.

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